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Tony Stewart update: ‘When he’s ready to get in the car, he’ll be in there’

Aug 15, 2014, 10:56 AM EDT

(Photo: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tony Stewart will not get back in a race car until he’s ready and will make that decision solely himself, Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Brett Frood said during a Friday morning press conference at Michigan International Speedway.

Stewart will miss a second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup event after the tragic accident last Saturday in a sprint car race in upstate New York that resulted in the death of a fellow racer, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr.

“This decision (not to race this weekend) was Tony’s,” Frood said. “It’s been an emotional week for him. He’s grieving.

“He made the decision he’s not ready to get in the race car. We’ll take it week by week. It’s going to be up to Tony when he’s ready to get back into the car.”

Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith was a last-minute replacement for Stewart in last Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen. This weekend’s race at Michigan will see veteran Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton driving Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet.

There has been no further discussion of Burton or any other driver filling in for Stewart in the next race (Bristol, next Saturday night) or beyond.

“Jeff will be the driver this weekend in Michigan,” Frood said. “We have not discussed any other races. We’ll talk to Tony. When he’s ready to get in the car, he’ll be in there, and we’ll go from there.”

SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli approached Burton on Wednesday to see if he’d be willing to fill in for Stewart, if necessary.

“Greg reached out to me Wednesday morning to ask if I was interested; that started the process,” Burton said. “It was like just in case Tony decides (not to race), we didn’t know.”

Burton, who will become a full-time analyst for NASCAR on NBC next season, hopes to bring a calming and stabilizing force to the team, which is also grieving over last Saturday’s tragic accident.

“My role is hopefully to provide a little stability, give that team a chance to have the most success they can have in a very difficult situation,” Burton said. “Hopefully me being here in some kind of way, I can help find a way for a healing process start.

“I don’t know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody. Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for everybody, but there’s a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing that work real hard and deserve 100 percent effort from me, and that’s what they’re going to get.”

On other fronts, Frood had the following to say:

* Where Stewart is currently: “Tony’s surrounded right now by his closest friends and family. We’re obviously in contact with him. His location is of a private nature right now.”

* The reaction of Stewart’s sponsors: “From a sponsor standpoint, we’ve got the greatest sponsors in the world. They’re very caring, they understand it’s an emotional time, there’s much sympathy for the family of the young man and they care for Tony. We’ve had a great deal of support from our sponsors.”

* This weekend’s task at hand: “As far as getting ready for this weekend, the task at hand for Greg and the rest of our crew is to prepare four cars for our drivers and figure out how to win this weekend at Michigan.”

* Stewart’s chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup will effectively end this weekend because NASCAR rules specify a driver must qualify for all pre-Chase races to be eligible for the playoffs. While Stewart qualified at Watkins Glen before the tragic accident, he will not qualify at Michigan.

“I’ll be honest, the Chase is of the lowest priority as it relates to Tony right now,” Frood said. “As far as the Chase, the only care I have this weekend is getting Danica (Patrick) into the Chase.

“Right now, it’s about getting Tony in a better place than he is right now. And when he’s ready to do that, he’ll get back in the car. We don’t care about the Chase (for him).”

* On media hysteria and inaccurate reporting: “We certainly understand the media has a job to do. And while there may be some irresponsible reporting, right now the focus should be on the family that’s grieving. And there’s been some focus that hasn’t been there. I’m quite certain that when we get through this that everyone will get the story from the key parties.”

* Whether this tragedy has affected the stability of SHR: “Absolutely not.”

* On how Stewart is holding up: “It’s been an emotional week for him. He’s grieving. Any time someone is lost, especially at a race track, it’s tragic. It was a tragic accident and he’s dealing with quite a bit of grief.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. astrongus - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    Tony Stewart, Please stay out of the car and check into some rehab, such as anger management…..ON the track, you are a danger to yourself and anyone around you, such as other racer’s, security personnel, and fans….You are just too dangerous….

  2. techmeister1 - Aug 15, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    astrongus-

    Your opinion is in the minority by a long shot because you are reaching untrue conclusions. While Stewart and the Brat Brothers could certainly use professional help for their anger issues, that does not necessarily mean they are a danger to anyone as you have conveniently concluded. In addition as Kevin Ward Jr.’s friend stated to the media, his firsthand observation of the sprint car track incident was that Stewart did everything he could to avoid hitting Ward. Thus the knee-jerk reactions and meritless claims by clueless haters should cease until the investigation by professionals is complete. They are the ones who will determine the facts of the case, not hate filled people.

    • astrongus - Aug 15, 2014 at 5:24 PM

      techmeister1 – I agree my opinion is in the minority. As a racer my whole life my view is in the minority. I have not had the success Tony Stewart has had, but I do know that when I raced those less experienced than me, I used extra caution….Extra caution, as it was expected, that is part of what “professional” means……….The video shows that Tony Stewart did absolutely nothing to avoid hitting Ward after he crashed Ward purposely…Tony Stewart let the heat of the race control his emotions….There was a clear yellow flag caution as Tony was the only one “on the gas”……Controlling emotions is important in all aspects of life…………….

  3. extavernmouse - Aug 15, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Tech — Wish I could give you a hundred thumbs up. So many people who don’t know anything about racing jumping in to make conclusions. Can’t imagine what it must be like to be a hater; what a rotten way to live.

  4. wickerbill52 - Aug 15, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    Perhaps some of you experts should read this…..

    http://www.racer.com/latest-stories/item/107375-pruett-ophelia-s-advice

  5. florida727 - Aug 15, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    I’m not a Tony Stewart fan; in fact, I can’t stand the guy. But my heart goes to him now. He’s clearly not a ‘bad guy’. He has to be dealing with an incredible amount of grief to not get into his car, do what he obviously loves doing, for multiple weeks after this incident.

    If you’re looking to assign fault to this incident, you can look no further than Kevin Ward himself. Dark section of the track unfortunately. Dark racing suit. Gets out of his car not because there’s a threat of fire, but because he’s angry. Then compounds it by walking onto the track right into the path of oncoming cars. This is tragic on a lot of fronts but not because of Tony Stewart. This kid violated the first rule of safety. Why? Because he was MAD.

    I hope Stewart can overcome this and get back on the track so that those that love him can cheer for him, and those that don’t like him can boo him. Bottom line: he’s good for racing, and that’s irrespective of whether you like him or not.

  6. worknman24hours - Aug 15, 2014 at 8:25 PM

    This sad incident can become a great opportunity for drivers who have longed to drive a top flight NASCAR race car and a great opportunity for Tony to move away from driving temporarily and see the breadth of the huge organization he heads up ( with his business partner) now.

    No one ever wanted to see any driver die especially under these kinds of circumstances but sometimes you get a gut check in a most terrible way because that is the only way you can be convinced to step aside and actually see the things you have been blessed with.

    Maybe Tony will get back in the car and maybe not.

    But for alot of people in all racing ( and driving on the street for that matter) in America,we all have a better understanding of what we have and what we have to lose in our actions.

  7. stagedoorjohnny - Aug 16, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    Oh excuse me while I’ll barf here. Until he’s (Tony Stewart) is ready to race again. What kind of narcissistic crap is that?
    Mr. Stewart – stay the hell away from a racetrack until a full and complete investigation has been done.
    Dude, you’ve run over and killed another driver. The father of the driver killed just buried his son and already expressed his feeling early this week.
    And even a few of your so-called friends expressed worry of what you did.
    As for now stay the hell away.

    • HFS Richard - Aug 17, 2014 at 1:54 AM

      What prey tell did you want him to say?
      “Tony’s not racing until we can prove he didn’t kill this guy on purpose?”
      He said exactly what needed to be said, he’s not racing this week and we don’t know when he will race again.
      He’s treating this like it is a sad sad tragedy. He’s taking time off because he was involved in this tragedy. Maybe he races again this season, maybe he never races again. Right now though, today, he’s doing the right thing and taking time off I have no idea what else you want out of him.

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